What’s wrong with Jason Heyward? It’s a blip in his BABIP

Perhaps a non-mechanical hug will do the trick. (AJC photo by Phil Skinner)

A non-mechanical hug might do the trick. (AJC photo by Phil Skinner)

Writing for ESPN Insider, Dayn Perry of FanGraphs asks the question many among us have asked: What happened to Jason Heyward? (Link requires registration.) Using the best data known to man and computers, Perry offers this telling snapshot:

Heyward is trending in the wrong direction when it comes to line-drive percentage (17.8 percent in 2010 to 13.9 percent in 2011), infield pop-ups (8.4 percent to 24.7 percent) and batting average on balls in play (.335 to .245). In the case of his declining BABIP, there’s almost certainly some bad luck involved, but the remaining indicators are more troubling.

Additionally, he’s swinging at 44.8 percent of pitches overall, up from 39.4 percent last year; and he’s swinging at 28.7 percent out of the zone after hacking at just 24.2 percent of such offerings. Add it all up and you have a guy who’s hitting fewer line drives and more pop-ups and seems to have lost control of the strike zone.

We’ve noted before that Heyward is swinging more and accomplishing less. (His batting average and on-base percentage tell us that much.) We’ve also noted that this is the truly baffling part. Unlike, say, Jordan Schafer, who has struck out a lot at every level, Heyward arrived in the majors bearing the stamp of a young player who knew the strike zone and could work a count.

Many observers — from Bobby Valentine, who’s a jerk, and Chipper Jones, who’s not — have suggested that Heyward’s “mechanics” have gone, if you will, haywire. That can happen. Ask Dan Uggla. But the bit about “losing  control of the strike zone” is the puzzling part. That’s not mechanical. That’s the part young Jason Heyward seemed to have down at age 20.

And now he just turned 22 and is playing behind the journeyman Jose Constanza. Baseball is the strangest of games — again, ask Dan Uggla — but I have to admit this Heyward thing has me baffled. I could not have imagined that the rookie who was so adept at figuring things out would have forgotten how to figure.

(Oh, one thing more: Perry mentions BABIP. That stands for “batting average on balls in play.” As a yardstick, statheads love BABIP. I find it hilarious. Whenever someone mentions BABIP, I want to ask, “What’s his batting average on balls not in play?” Pretty sure that’d be .000.)

Update: I’ve been reliably informed that home runs don’t count as “balls in play.” (Unless, I can only assume, they’re inside-the-park home runs.) So you can have a batting average above .000 on balls not in play. And yes, my eyes are glazing over.

By Mark Bradley

402 comments Add your comment

Not so fast, my friend

August 23rd, 2011
9:09 am

BjohnDawg

August 23rd, 2011
9:12 am

jokurone

August 23rd, 2011
9:15 am

Third place Jhey will b back

Mark Bradley

August 23rd, 2011
9:15 am

Kudos, my fast friend.

Sean

August 23rd, 2011
9:16 am

That percentage of infield fly balls is just downright alarming. That’s the one guaranteed out in every level of baseball. I have to ask — does that mean 24.7 percent of fly balls are in the infield, or 24.7 percent of every time he makes contact, it’s an infield fly ball? Could be either, but the latter would be even worse.

BjohnDawg

August 23rd, 2011
9:17 am

The guys hit 12 or 13 hrs this season. Second year in the majors. Soph Jinx?
I dont think we catch the Phillies, so play him when you can, get him extra BP.Extra instruction.
And if you are Fredi, tell him to have some fun out there.
If not, he is going to become another Francouer.

Tree rollins

August 23rd, 2011
9:17 am

Freddie Freeman is the Jason Heyward we thought we would have!

PMC

August 23rd, 2011
9:19 am

There seems to be a hole from the chest to the knees on pitches near or over the plate.

He has zero confidence right now and it’s obvious. Maybe he just needs to hear Let’s Go Heyward some. It worked last year.

Innocent Bystander

August 23rd, 2011
9:21 am

I, for one, blame Larry Parrish. TP wasn’t so bad of a hitting coach after all, since he taught patience at the plate (and it showed). The Braves were always near top of the league in OBP under TP (5th, 6th, 6th the past three years). They’re currently in the bottom third of the NL (11th) with a .313 OBP.

Also, Mark, before you go cracking the “batting avg on balls not in play” joke, I should warn you that HRs count as “balls not in play”, so unless a player has 0 HRs, his BABNIP would be greater than .000.

Tree rollins

August 23rd, 2011
9:21 am

Jason Heyward, on the other hand, is now Atlanta’s new Jeff Franceour! He may become a player again if we move him out of Atlanta.

dean

August 23rd, 2011
9:22 am

During “The Open” I heard it said by guru that what helped one of the players was some pretty simple advice: “Don’t let the game control your attitude. Let your attitude control your game.”

It sounded reasonable, and universal, to me.

Huge

August 23rd, 2011
9:22 am

Actually Home Runs don’t count as balls in play. Therefore, his Batting Average when balls are not in play would be greater than .000

ASN

August 23rd, 2011
9:24 am

Doesn’t sound like you believe in the advanced metrics? Why not?

WinderDawg

August 23rd, 2011
9:25 am

His swing looks like an old mans softball swing with a big looping bat….He wants to extend his arms of every pitch so he has no chance of an inside ball…can’t hit a homer every time…just hit the ball!

PMC

August 23rd, 2011
9:29 am

Perhaps he and Greg Oden should just change places again and Heyward can go back to being a good baseball player again.

journalist jimmy smith

August 23rd, 2011
9:29 am

has anyone checked his toe health? toes are important in baseball and toes are not to be trifled with. check his toes and end his woes.

ATLBraveSEC

August 23rd, 2011
9:30 am

Heyward will come around…. but may not be till next year

curtisjones

August 23rd, 2011
9:31 am

I just hope Constanza’s ankle injury isn’t serious. With Jose in the lineup, the Braves are a championship team. With Heyward in the lineup, right now anyway, they’re mediocre.

journalist jimmy smith

August 23rd, 2011
9:33 am

a bad toe can end a career. that’s what happened to dizzy dean. jason heyward always looks like his shoes are too tight. he should also lose the batting gloves because he spends most of his time at bat fooling with his gloves. where his toes point has a lot to do with where he hits the ball. look it up.

R

August 23rd, 2011
9:39 am

“And yes, my eyes are glazing over.”

Shame you don’t care to learn more about a sport you cover.

[...] Post By Google News Click Here For The Entire Article Discount Computers- Share and [...]

mike

August 23rd, 2011
9:41 am

Why’s he on the bench when you have an 8 game lead in the wild card and virtually no chance of catching Philly?

Stupid.

MannyT

August 23rd, 2011
9:43 am

I’m waiting for the AJC statheads to provide Heyward’s MOANBBA.

(Mentioned on AJC non-baseball blog batting average) I’m sure this is a true measure of his state of mind while hitting. 8-O

Joe

August 23rd, 2011
9:44 am

Yep, Jason Heyward is having a tough year. But look folks. Kansas City had a phenom a few years back who even the great George Brett said would be the next superstar.

But, he struggled hitting and struggled fielding his position, so eventually ended up in AAA at Omaha, learning a new position and some hitting.

This year at Kansas City his is just having as awesome year. Fellow named Alex Gordon.

So patience may be a key, cause Heyward has same potential.

VolGuy

August 23rd, 2011
9:44 am

I’m certainly no expert, but Heyward’s swing looks kind of jerky when I compare it to the smooth and seemingly effortless swing of Chipper Jones. I still think the kid has great potential but he needs to get away and work herd on improving his mechanics before he ends up being the next Francouer. When he was here, it seemed like Francouer wasn’t willing to make any substantive changes in his swing. I hope Jason isn’t as stubborn.

Herschel Talker

August 23rd, 2011
9:45 am

MB:

Any thoughts to the similarities between Heyward and Francoeur? Tremendous talent, seemed to lose it over bad mechanics and pitch selection?

Let’s hope that Heyward doesn’t develop the arrogant attitude that Francoeur developed (I don’t think he will), or else we’re heading down the path of another bust of a rightfielder.

HT

UGADawg83

August 23rd, 2011
9:45 am

O.K Now back to college football

ATL Fan

August 23rd, 2011
9:46 am

“See the ball; hit the ball” Pete Rose

Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable

August 23rd, 2011
9:46 am

As Chipper Jones pointed out in his calling out of Heyward earlier in the season, the Braves clearly need to hire a full-time staff gynecologist to tend to their sophomore right fielder.

Richham

August 23rd, 2011
9:48 am

Wasn’t it Gonzales and Chipper suggest that he stop taking so many pitches??? I’m amazed at how much advice he got when he had a really good season last year. I think it screwed with his head and his confidence.

I honestly believe his struggles have come from taking too much advice, along with injuries to really screw him up. Sometimes giving a kid too much to think about is a bad thing, instead of letting him just play and allowing his instincts to direct him.

phil

August 23rd, 2011
9:49 am

ASN

August 23rd, 2011
9:24 am
Doesn’t sound like you believe in the advanced metrics? Why not?
****************
Probably because it’s baseball and not bridge or aircraft building. Homeruns don’t count in the silly BABIP statistic? Brilliant….

Najeh Davenpoop

August 23rd, 2011
9:49 am

Send him to AAA for a while and let him get his swing right. Whatever his problem is, letting him continue to make the same mistakes at the big league level while not giving him the playing time required to work his way out of it is not the right way to fix it.

BigTimeTechFan

August 23rd, 2011
9:49 am

Hayward will be ok and World Series MVP

Hossa Williams

August 23rd, 2011
9:50 am

Freddie Freeman = Brian McCann (You didn’t hear as much about them because of the guys below)
Jason Heyward = Jeff Francoeur (all the hype but can’t back it up)

Karl Hungus

August 23rd, 2011
9:51 am

BABIP is a function of putting good contact on the ball (and some luck, which normalizes the rate). Putting good contact on the ball is the result of swinging at good pitches to hit. His line drive rate is down, his infield fly rate is up. This is because he’s swinging more often, and he’s swinging at more pitches out of the zone. Voila, his BABIP is down. It is explained clear as day in the block quote – not sure why you’re criticizing the stat. (Granted, swing mechanics play a role in this, and folks who know what they’re talking about say his mechanics are off. However, the numbers provided support the BABIP argument.)

JackDennis

August 23rd, 2011
9:51 am

Plate coverage. I think he would hit from the on-deck circle if the rules allowed it.

BAMA dude

August 23rd, 2011
9:51 am

Heyward is scuffling up there right now. I don’t know that there’s any explanation for it other than the standard slump curve. They say you first just blow it off, then realize you’re in a slump, then start pressing to try to get out, then get frustrated with yourself, then finally get a couple of lucky bounces that are good for the soul (think Uggla’s hit streak) and all is right with the world again. I think he’ll make it back, but don’t think you can sit Constanza while he does. Of course, Constanza spraining his ankle might just be the “opportunity” that Heyward needs to get fixed. How ironic would THAT be?

phil

August 23rd, 2011
9:51 am

mike

August 23rd, 2011
9:41 am
Why’s he on the bench when you have an 8 game lead in the wild card and virtually no chance of catching Philly?

Stupid.
**************
No, stupid would be to play this guy every day when he couldn’t hit a basketball rolled on the ground to him….

Alphare

August 23rd, 2011
9:52 am

JHey is a more likable guy than French. When things going well, French would talk differently. JHey sounds more level headed.

The guy is only 21. I wouldn’t be in JHey’s shape mentally if I was JHey at 21. So, give him some time.

Herschel Talker

August 23rd, 2011
9:52 am

Richham:

I believe that was our former idiot skipper Bobby who said that he was too patient. Great advice, Bobby, you stupid old fool. Enjoy your retirement #6, you choking hack.

HT

phil

August 23rd, 2011
9:53 am

The Heycoueur nickname….gaining steam!

Herschel Talker

August 23rd, 2011
9:53 am

Alphare:

I agree, Heyward is very likeable so we should all be pulling for him. I don’t think he’ll develop the crappy, arrogant attitude that Francoeur had, thank God.

HT

phil

August 23rd, 2011
9:54 am

That’s all we ever hear….

Give him so more time.

What will the mantra be this time next year if he’s hitting like this?

Remarkable

August 23rd, 2011
9:56 am

Time cures a lot of things. If you are a career .300 hitter, a slump is probably only a matter of time. (See Uggla) I’m willing to bet that the pressure he is putting on himself is most of the problem. If so many people didn’t have such a high expectation for his hitting, management could send him to AAA to work it out. I’m sorry to say this, but it probably won’t get worked out until spring training.

Navigator

August 23rd, 2011
9:57 am

Too much back patting, too much expectation, too young to handle subtle changes in how pitchers pitch him. It’s Frenchy part 2, and his replacement has done what Heyward hasn’t been able to, get on base and steal bases. He’s a catalyst versus a hole in the line up. Heyward needs to go back to AAA and get his head on straight, and work his way back.

BAMA dude

August 23rd, 2011
9:57 am

phil, I’m not a stathead either but BABIP does have some merit. A player with league average speed and LD% should also have league average BABIP, no? Guys like Bourn and Constanza break the system a bit with their ability to beat stuff out, as do guys like Tony Gwynn who would spray good solid line drives from foul line to foul line. As a rule though, BABIP shouldn’t vary much from player to player unless the player is popping up a lot. If it does, that’s when you can say luck is involved (i.e. bloopers dropping in or line drives getting caught.)

Karl Hungus

August 23rd, 2011
9:57 am

@Sean Infield fly percentage is infield flies over total fly balls, not over total contacted balls.

ted williams head

August 23rd, 2011
9:57 am

Mark that is most idiotic stat ive ever heard of. Some stathead must have come up with that after realizing all usuable stats were taken

Wait I see this moron Perry works for something called Fan Graphs which I hope to never hear of again

Henry D.

August 23rd, 2011
9:58 am

He has the same problem a lot of the Braves hitters do. They have stopped trying to get base hits and are swinging for a home run every time they swing. Thus the increase in infield pop ups. They uppercut half the pitches they see. Also why we have seen so many bases loaded situations where we get either nothing or maybe 1 run.

PMC

August 23rd, 2011
10:01 am

Freddie Freeman is a rookie like Jason was last year. Let’s hold off on the soon to be 6 time all star talk.

Jason is having a bad year, he’s not a bad player.